Davis & Elkins College presented British pianist Jack Gibbons in a “Gershwin Gala” concert in honor of the composer’s 114th birthday. The Sept 26, 2012 celebration, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, was a spectacular success. Gibbons played some of his own compositions as well as the West Virginia state anthem. A virtuoso pianist who has performed frequently in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and London’s Royal Albert Hall, Gibbons specializes in the works of George Gershwin.
Gibbons is both a concert pianist and composer. On Gibbons’ website, the British Press is quoted, “Gibbons has transcribed the composer’s flamboyant and fiendishly difficult recreations of his own show-tunes … he dashes off the most insanely difficult passage-work with a broad grin. This is music that requires verve, nerve and Gibbons’ enviable capacity to generate party atmosphere.”
Gibbons began performing in public at the age of 10, made his professional solo recital debut at the age of 15, his London debut at 17, and at 20 won the Newport International Pianoforte Competition.
In 1990, he gave the first annual all-Gershwin program in London. It featured the world premieres of his meticulous reconstructions of Gershwin’s breathtaking improvisations. In 1994, he gave his New York and Washington, D.C., debuts to popular acclaim. The BBC has hailed him as “THE Gershwin pianist of our time.” He is responsible for resurrecting original Gershwin material as well as Gershwins original style and intentions through study of radio programs and even piano rolls he made during his lifetime, in the 20s and 30s
This program featured popular favorites, such as “I Got Rhythm,” as well as selections from Porgy and Bess, and the lyrical “Rhapsody in Blue,” plus Gibbons’ by-ear transcriptions of Gershwin’s playing from old recordings. Mr Gibbons aims to recreate Gershwin’s own unique performance style and original improvisations, and is said to have succeeded. Gibbons is also an accomplished raconteur – weaving into the concerts explanations of Gershwin’s unique style of playing with anecdotes about his contemporaries, including Oscar Levant and Al Jolson. Gershwin, he says, was responsible for introducing Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers resulting in their pairing in the musical film, Shall We Dance, which included the hits “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Gibbons also told some anecdotes describing Gershwin’s generosity of spirit and effect on others.
Gibbons has an irresistible enthusiasm for the music and his life as a musician which may have been enhanced by a near-death experience from which he slowly recovered. His accident in March 2001 left him uncertain if he would ever be able to play again, his arm being broken in 15 places.
Gibbons acknowledges that the accident has changed his outlook on life. “I think I’m more selfish now. I don’t worry so much about what I should be doing, I just do the things I really want to do. I started composing songs when I came out of hospital because I couldn’t play the piano much, and now I’m quite passionate about that. I’ve written lots of songs, and now there are performers in America who want to sing them.”
His passionate performance and personal charm was definitely a greatly appreciated gift to the audience.
Running Time: Approximately 2 and a half hours, with one intermission.
Davis & Elkins College Presents: A Gershwin Gala with Jack Gibbons, Piano, was performed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 7:30 PM in The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.